It seems as though everyone has at least one sordid skeleton hiding in the dark corners of their closet; something that they would happily volunteer to just forget about; just go on living like it never happened to begin with. Take the Detroit Lions, for example, who went through their entire 2008 NFL season without winning a single game! They managed to chalk up a disgraceful 0-16 record!! To put that into some perspective, I never even got out of my recliner the entire season and I still experienced considerably less humiliation than they; just imagine if I had exerted some actual effort! Oh, the possibilities!! You might even consider The Beatles, who are largely considered to be one of the most successful music acts on record; surely when they hear their zany refrain “Yellow Submarine”, they try and pass it off as some Jethro Tull tune or maybe some gibberish from those mop-heads in The Monkees. Unfortunately, our less-than-perfect moments seem to haunt us in our memories more deeply than our successes. When it comes to Jeeps that one less-than-ideal masterpiece firmly founded in history is likely the Wrangler YJ.
I feel the need to be completely honest with you right up front and disclose that I currently own, enjoy and regularly drive a lifted YJ – a fact that has landed me on the receiving end of more than my fair share of torment over the years, all well-intended of course. They always seem to ease up when I start crying. Countless times I have heard “Real Jeeps don’t have square headlights” as an attempt to negate the premise that any YJ even deserves to be called a Jeep at all. While basic geometry has clearly defined for all of us the differences between a square and a rectangle, I will agree that the documented history of Jeep is certainly chocked- full of round headlights, always mounted nicely into slotted grilles; leading one to believe that they are both, indeed, fundamental elements of any real Jeep. In the half-century previous to the newly designed YJ, you would be hard-pressed to find any vehicles that didn’t have round headlights. It never was exclusively a “Jeep Thing” but, somehow, now defines it? The fact that Jeep designers chose to use rectangular headlight in the redefined YJ can be lent to the fact that they were purposely striving to make a sportier, more road-friendly Jeep that would easily appeal to a wider market than ever before. The U.S. automakers had largely switched to rectangular lights by the late 1970’s, based on their increased overall efficiency and lower cost to produce. This was deemed an acceptable evolution in exterior design and, once implemented, would undoubtedly guarantee that the YJ would receive some level of preferential negative treatment from the Jeep community for decades to come. So, out with the round and in with the squa-err, ….rectangles!
Once you got past the desecration that was the front grille and rectangular headlights, the new Jeep Wrangler was really a nice progression, in terms of driver ergonomics and comfort. While the CJ had always been outfitted with a dashboard that resembled a massive roadside billboard with oddly-placed gauge holes, the YJ dash was somewhat contoured, tapered and much more carlike; with recesses and varying depths that made it seem less an offspring of its purely utilitarian forefathers. The front bucket seats were appreciably more supportive than their predecessors had been. The folding rear bench, however, maintained perfectly it’s limited level of passenger comfort while solidifying its dual purpose design; allowing it to be used as a child torture device on any road trip lasting longer than a handful of minutes. If you are going to do it wrong, do so without compromise.
Underneath that new controversial sheet metal, the YJ stuck with the tried & true – a 2.5 liter 4-banger and 4.2-liter straight-six engines, dropping the latter for a potent 4.0 liter, in late 1990, that supplied Wrangler owners with a smile-inducing 180 horsepower, aided by a remarkably better fuel injection system. Power plants were nestled inside a frame structure that was virtually identical to that of the previous CJ7, although it was given a slightly stronger box section and front shock towers. The YJ continued, as well, with the age-old leaf sprung suspension, however, spring packs were widened while sway and track bars added in an all-out effort to improve the Wranglers on-road mannerisms without compromising its off-road integrity. While the YJ is a bit more docile on the highway than the typical CJ it replaced, it seemed to serve undeniable proof that the limits of the leaf spring suspension would always fall short in delivering a luxury car ride in, what was, essentially, a truck.
I can only imagine what kind of public reception would have been offered if the later TJ, released in 1997, would have been offered as the replacement for the CJ. Would its peculiar coil spring suspension and lavish interior been too much for people to handle, if not for the YJ having made such significant strides in regards to change. We may have never gotten to know the beauty of unadulterated off-road articulation that the Wrangler TJ and JK would eventually bring us for our enjoyment. If only we knew then that we would eventually get our glorious round headlights back…we just had to endure that awkward phase first. You know, that time of your life that you would just as soon forget? A time when the difference between a square and a rectangle was not so clear?
So when you see that YJ out wheeling down the road, be sure to give them a wave. They are as much a part of the Jeep family as any other. Sure, they weren’t the Homecoming Queen, and more than likely didn’t even make the homecoming court, but they were at the dance; in the corner looking a little more awkward than everyone else but present, nonetheless. OlllllllO